Tacit Updating, Meditating in Place, and Unlocking Habitual Response Patterns (and Feldenkrais)

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[This is a bit of a continuation of this post.]


1. Tacit Updating

tacit – “tac·it /ˈtasət/ adjective ‘understood or implied without being stated.'”

Techniques like Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) and Coherence Therapy (CT) can require lots and lots of languaging. To be sure, when using these protocols, there is a huge, irreplaceable, critical, felt, tacit, non-language component. But, again, there is that huge, symbolic, language component.

At times, it seems that the linguistic component is necessary for anything to happen at all. You have to say it; you have to say the right words for the magic to happen.

That being said, I have found, over time, that I can get positive shifts to happen, using nonverbal mental moves that I don’t fully understand. Getting these nonverbal shifts was confusingly unreliable, even though I seemed to be pretty good at manipulating lots of juxtaposed nonsymbolic cognition in mind at once. And I felt like I had teased out, at least intuitively, all of the nonverbal moves that parallel the explicit IFS and CT instructions.

Basically, it *felt like* I was applying the nonverbal, invariant mental moves that I’d teased out from stuff like IFS and CT, but I wasn’t getting the effects I wanted.

Turns out, I seem to have been neglecting important interleaved and concurrent moves involving background or “peripheral” awareness.

I think why verbalizing seemed essential for a consistent effect is that verbalizing “just the right thing” requires you to “properly” attend to something that was hanging out in peripheral awareness. Having made that connection, it seems that you can do the “properly” part, vis-a-vis peripheral awareness, without necessarily needing to do the verbalizing part, though there’s a tradeoff.

So, here, try this:

1. Attend to an issue using foreground attention.

This could be a problem, a concern, a pattern, an upcoming event, a past event, etc. In any case, it’s bugging you and you probably have emotions around it. It’s a thing.

Or, maybe it’s not a thing, yet. With practice, you can pretty quickly start to get a nonverbal/tacit/implicit “felt sense” of a “thing,” all together, all at once. The “real thing” could be pretty complicated, with lots of issues spinning off, but you can sort of “ball up” enough of it, or find a way to twist your attention to vaguely cover it in a way that kind of captures the sense of it. Sometimes it feels like you’re inventing or tying it all together on the spot, you’re fashioning a workable attentional object, making something into a “thing.” It can take some practice to get the right “thing” from the right “angle.”

Once you’ve got the thing…

2. Gently stabilize foreground attention on the nonverbal, “felt” sense of the issue.

You’ve really got to gently keep it there. It’s ok if your attention hops away intermittently, at least at first, but the thing has to be stable enough that it only goes into peripheral awareness, without it disappearing entirely, and you can hop right back. You should be able to gently stabilize your attention on the thing for seconds at a time.

Once you’re stable…

[Update: Regarding step 1 and 2: With foreground attention already slower moving or even pretty stabilized, lighting up background awareness and listening closely, where’s attention already drawn, what’s already coming up, don’t jump too much–incorporate, bring it all in, and, and, and, but, but, but, how quickly can you notice, allow, incorporate, all together, all at once…]

[Update: Some judo you can try is to simply good-faith-begin to do or intend towards canonical foreground background attention, with some neutral object in self or environment, and, attention and emotion will typically actively resist, stuff will reactively get stirred up–they want to go somewhere emotionally salient, they want to turn gears on relevant life issues. So, give your mind that, but not with reverie (though that will be mixed in), but with rounds and rounds of tacit updating, mixing and moving between fb/bg meditation and tacit updating, with reverie and intuitive moves filling in the gaps.]

3. Concurrently ask all parts of peripheral awareness to listen to a) foreground attention and b) all other parts of background/peripheral awareness. Stabilize this question/intention.

This has a “you really need to gently keep it there” feeling, too. During normal waking consciousness, the contents of peripheral awareness are continually changing. (This is obscured by foreground attention doing its endless bouncing around and sort of drowning/dimming everything else out.) According to Culadasa (and, I guess, very loosely textbook neuroscience) “subminds” send and receive via consciousness. What you’re doing here is, “(gently, respectfully) holding everything still to get everything’s attention, and then asking everything to listen.”

This is sort of inconsistent, but my thinking was that parts of the brain somehow need to be “activated and paying attention” in order to “unlock” their habitual behavior. And, if “everything” (or at least more parts of the brain than usual) are continuously paying attention, then complex, sequential, interconnected updates can happen all in a row.

At this point, you have foreground attention stable on an issue and background awareness is relatively stable, open, and listening…

4. Maintain foreground stabilization and background receptiveness and “actively, patiently” wait for seconds, until “done.”

Typically, I’ll start shaking or one or more motor loops will start firing after a few seconds or sometimes longer, five to fifteen seconds or more. And, basically, I’ll maintain everything until the shaking stops and/or I’ve reached some sort of tacit sense of completion. Sometimes after that I’ll pick up a new angle/issue and do it again, or I’ll pick up the old one again to see if there’s anything more.

After one round, if I picked the right “angle” on the issue, usually something fairly significant has changed, cognitively and/or emotionally. It has a similar “significant and permanent” feel as if I had done IFS or CT, etc., on it.

The downside is that I usually don’t really understand what just happened. Sometimes I’ll get a bit of a sense of what’s going on, or I’ll get some flashes of imagery or memory. But, usually, it’s just that I’m no longer thinking, feeling, or doing something that previously seemed locked-in-stone habitual or reactive (though it’s not always the thing that I was hoping would change or go away, at least not on the first or multiple tries!). Or, I’ll have a sense that something changed, but I don’t really be able to put my finger on what, at least at first, or ever.

So, this is not good for sort of model building, narrative building, or being able to crosscheck some of the things that you think you just did. (It’s possible that I’ll figure out how to smoothly dial up and down insight while doing this, vis-a-vis the tradeoff below or via another channel. This is a work-in-progress.)

[Update: I just want to add, as I get more and more practice with this, that it does seem to often be becoming more transparent as to what’s happening, emotionally and psychologically (synchronically) and why (narratively; diachronically). This is very new, as I write this. I’m still exploring angles and dimensions, and it may be possible to improve on all of this in many ways.]

The upside to this process is that it’s really, really fast. Usually it takes less than a minute, if not mere seconds, especially with repeated practice. (Compare that with IFS or Coherence therapy, which can take hours or days to get anywhere. But sometimes that’s what you need, especially if insight or narrative-building is critical.) I will assert that, perhaps, this process “forces” ALL possible emotional and cognitive updates to occur, up to that point in time, for that particular issue (again, remembering that an issue that’s too “thing-like” can be limiting–exploring how issue-ness affects all of this could be very fruitful).

So, to recap:

  1. Attend to an issue using foreground attention.
  2. Gently stabilize foreground attention on the nonverbal, “felt” sense of the issue.
  3. Concurrently ask all parts of peripheral awareness to listen to a) attention and b) all other parts of peripheral awareness. Stabilize this question/intention.
  4. Maintain foreground stabilization and background receptiveness and “actively, patiently” wait for seconds, until “done.”

Please let me know what your experience are with trying or doing this process. I’d like to keep fiddling with this, while remaining open to what’s “actually” going on, to really keep teasing out the minimal, comprehensive, consistent, inner process to achieving safe, legitimate transformation. (And, again, I’ve got this thing for processes that can be seamlessly woven into meditation and daily life that symphonically enhance and don’t get in the way of living.)

2. In Situ Meditation

in situ – “/ˌin ˈsīto͞o,ˈsē-/ adverb & adjective ‘in its original place.'”

Here’s another thing I suggest playing around with.

Normally when we meditate, or at least when I meditate, there seems to be this grand rearrangement of foreground attention and background awareness. There is this sense of “gathering” or “recombobulation” of “settling down” of “smoothing things out” of “becoming present,” or “bringing stuff online.” Basically, getting ready to meditate seems to take this big reconfiguration of mind, at least with respect to how I’ve defined meditation and how I habitually engage in it.

I’ve tried hard to minimize “grand reconfiguration,” to sort of have the lightest touch possible. But this still seems to be a thing for me, even though I’ve mitigated it over time.

So, I’ve tried to make doing sort of the opposite into a thing too. That is, very explicitly, very carefully changing nothing (as best I can) while simultaneously becoming aware of my entire mind exactly as it is. For now, I’m calling this “in situ meditation.” But, it’s more of a spot procedure than a meditation practice, a way to more organically, continuously, “unbrokenly” drift towards the more canonical foreground background meditation protocol, if desired.

This can also be a iterative procedure, where you “do it,” then relax and then “do it” again, over and over, with some kind of break in between runs.

So what does this actually entail?

I do it in two pieces:

First, I become aware of what’s under the spotlight of attention. (From start to finish, this has to happen within milliseconds because otherwise your act of doing it is going to greatly influence whatever the mind is doing. You’ll sort of drown out what the mind was doing before you got there.)

Then, within milliseconds after the first part, I brighten background awareness and/or sort of cover what background/peripheral awareness is already doing with “more awareness” trying not to disturb what’s already going on out there. Importantly, this all has to be done without attention being captured by something in peripheral awareness, otherwise your mind will “reconfigure” and you’ll instantly be pretty far away from what the mind was already doing before you got there.

Now, from here, as I mentioned above, you can sort of slowly, continuously ease into a more canonical foreground background meditation. Or, you could use this as a jumping off point for some variant of choiceless awareness.

One thing I especially like to do (and which I would especially like to point out) is to gently hold everything exactly as I found it and wait for a bit. That is, I gently hold the foreground and background of my mind as I found them.

There seems to be some sort of “secondary attention” that exists in this state, a sort of “secondary spotlight” or metacognition that can roam around a bit and take things in, examining both foreground attention and background peripheral awareness, without letting primary foreground attention make its next jump or for the contents of background peripheral awareness to shuffle and change (too much).

If you do this, once you get the hang of it, I think what you’ll find is that you’ll often have been in a seemingly “narrow trance state.”

Here are some of possible features of your mind that you’ll find when you look around:

  1. It may have a sense of utter and total certainty, sort of the same feel as like when you’re dreaming.
  2. It may have sort of a narrow “corridor” feel. Most of peripheral awareness will be quite dim or unused, and only what’s highly pertinent to the current mind state will have content.
  3. If you cast that “secondary attention” further out, you may notice that your entire musculature has a very “precise configuration” feel, that you’ve subtly configured every muscle in your body to appropriately “micro respond” to this particular mind moment, including the future implications of this particular mind moment.

(For more on the “temporal microphenomenology” of mind, I suggest “Ghosts of Consciousness” by Herbert Demmin. For more on the in situ phenomenology of mind, I suggest Investigating Pristine Inner Experience by Russell Hurlburt. These books are dense and intense, highly recommended if you’re in a hardcore mood. I am grateful they exist.)

Now, if you continue to hang out using that one-two combination above, something interesting might happen. You might notice an almost visceral “unlocking” sense, where that dreamlike certainty seems to recede and that muscle configuration, which previously seemed rock solid, absolutely necessary, will acquire a sense of looseness and possibility.

It’s interesting, that unlocking. Where you take that newfound freedom, in that moment, is up to you… Seriously, though, I’m still exploring the potential of catching out these in situ configurations. Please let me know what you find.


The above is sort of the meat of what I wanted to get across, but there’s a related connection, between attention and body awareness, which I wanted to get across, too.

Learning and change are somehow tied to attentional processes. Conversely, there is at least one study out there the claims mindful listening has a *worse* learning outcome than half paying attention, and I think the evidence that a brief period of “unconscious incubation” is helpful is sort of mixed. Anyway, I haven’t reviewed all this literature systematically. But, it seems clear that there are certain times when paying attention is magical. And, perhaps “paying attention” is wayyyyyy to simple as per all the above; for good stuff to occur, I suspect there are important additional sub-distinctions in the temporal, spatial, and cognitive deployment of attention as well as the interplay between attention and peripheral awareness. But, *anyway,* I wanted to make some comments on one effect I’ve noticed.

Take walking, say, a basic walking rhythm over level ground, with plenty of space in front of you to keep walking. As you’re walking, you may find that you have some flexibility–you can sway your hips or move your arms differently or whatever. But, if you’ll examine, you may find that the “core muscle movements” are like a “dynamic steel arch,” from foot to pelvis to foot, which sort of has an “unchangeable” feel. Like, there’s no wiggle room, of a certain kind, in there. As long as you’re walking, that “dynamics steel arch” is going to do its thing (and keep you from crashing into a wall or the pavement) and it’s not really open to modification. It has an unmodifiable or “locked” phenomenology to it. (Do you agree?)

However, if you maintain awareness on those “locked” muscles (and again, they may be moving in a rhythmic pattern, which still responds reflexively to the environment; and you really have to suss out and stabilize your attention across the right muscles), there will eventually (over five to twenty seconds) be a palpable sense of unlocking or at least a localized looseness that will manifest over less than a second or two.

It seems you have now opened that (rhythmic) motor pattern to modification. Neat trick, I think.

If you buy the theory that nervous systems evolved for locomotion and that thinking evolved from motor plans (or even if you don’t), all of this may open additional lines of theorizing for how to modify beliefs, habitual behavior, automaticity, and all sorts of stuff.

I want to give a hat tip to Feldenkrais, here, because he was an early theorizer and playing with his stuff allowed me to notice the above.

The Feldenkrais method has you pay close attention while you do carefully chosen movements for a very large number of reps, say twenty-five. I think what his protocol does is it unlocks motor patterns; while simultaneously giving you lots and lots of practice reps; while simultaneously exhausting the muscles and forcing you to find a more and more efficient use of the muscles in play (possibly in relation to posture and gravity).

Regarding body stuff, plenty of other things are important, too, but Feldenkrais was a key puzzle piece, for me, in greatly improving my general quality of life. His stuff especially contributed to why I can sprint again, after working with many other tools and techniques across many different modalities.

If you’re curious about exploring this for yourself, I suggest Awareness Through Movement. It is a tedious but excellent book. (Side note: if you have generalized muscle tension issues, look into sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, overall caloric intake, and most especially choline, but not choline-plus-inositol.)

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